Students unite to discuss refugee health at MasonWHO conference

(Photo credit: Donna Imadi/Fourth Estate)

After six months of planning and organizing, the Mason Model World Health Organization held its first conference last weekend.

The conference, sponsored by over 10 different Mason-affiliated organizations, appealed to students all across the region, including students from University of Maryland, Virginia Commonwealth University and American University. Over 100 participants attended the event, held at Mason’s Global Center, to debate and collaborate on the conference’s topic, refugee health.

The Mason Model World Health Organization (MasonWHO) conference was meant to “mimic the political, social, cultural, and economic realities defining global health policies,” according to MasonWHO’s website. Taking on the roles of countries, important individuals, reporters, companies or NGO representatives, participants debated and prepared legislation. At the end of the conference, delegates voted on resolutions that could potentially be forwarded to the event’s WHO headquarters for consideration and published in the “final conference proceedings book.”

Five committees were represented at the conference, each consisting of delegates representing a different nation’s stance on refugee health. The delegates engaged in fierce debates, caucuses and diplomatic partnerships in order to create resolutions for solving critical problems facing their represented countries and the international community as a whole.

The five committees included the African Regional Office (AFRO), American Regional Office (AMRO), Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO), Southeast Asian & Western Pacific Regional Office (SEA WPRO) and Health Technologies In Humanitarian Emergencies (HTHE).

The topics in discussion ranged from safety, water access, sanitation, hygiene, shelter and nutrition, among others.

Asha Athman, a theme director and chair of the HTHE committee, spoke about how the interactions between different delegates in her committee panned out. She noted how her committee was unique in that its participants represented different groups from the private sector and from the public sector. The delegates collaborated and debated on different policies and discussed issues regarding the role of private-public partnerships in aiding refugee health.

“This committee was very interesting because they were not representing countries but rather, companies, NGOs and intergovernmental organizations. It’s so interesting how different each delegation’s stake and perspective is, yet they are unifying together to work on a common goal [how to improve refugee health],” Athman said.

She further noted how important the pluralism in the conference’s environment was for creating an interdisciplinary atmosphere.

“To see majors from bioengineers to global affairs collaborating to try to find solutions to a common goal is one of the most positive aspects of the WHO conference,” Asha said.

Participants Andrew Millin and Jamie Thomas said one of the most unique and “coolest” aspects of the conference was the representation of the media within each committee. For example, the representation of CNN as a delegation created a realistic media outlet in each committee, they said. The news sources acted as actual live media sources, live-tweeting under different media accounts, like @MasonWHOCNN, about developments occurring within committees.

Sameen Yusuf, the conference’s executive director, gave credit to the entire MasonWHO leadership team for planning this conference in such a short amount of time. She noted that the inception of the idea took place in Fenwick Library, as her and Zeinab Safi, the event’s delegate resource coordinator, were inspired to unify multiple organizations on campus who were addressing topics pertaining to refugees.

“I saw a lot of activism on campus for refugees, but we never talked about healthcare … talking about refugee health encompasses so many different disciplines, it is so complex, and integral to addressing the wider refugee crisis,” Yusuf said when she explained the reason why refugee health was the topic of Mason’s first WHO conference.

Regardless of each participant’s background or major, Yusuf said she wanted each to know that they could make an impact by taking a step to voice their opinions and discuss their ideas with others.

“I want people to see that nothing can be done on our own, we all have to work together to achieve change and progress within our societies,” Yusuf said.